Deep, long, restful sleep. Is that too much to ask? I’m in bed by 9 p.m., because at my age you figure out that going to bed early is a privilege. But then I’m awake again, struggling to lose consciousness at 2 a.m., 3 a.m., 5 a.m.. I’m in the habit now of rising between the hour of 5:30 and 6:30. I remember my father being an early to bed early to rise type of guy. He was up creaking the floorboards by 4 a.m. at the latest. Granted, Viet Nam veterans often have nightmares too, and from the way his body twitched and coiled, ready to spring like a wildcat during his afternoon naps on the gold velour couch in the Family room, I shouldn’t complain about my dreams being bad, ever.
But I lost a child to the ocean last night. It engulfed her. She was small and daring and naïve like her mother, and the wave that took her seemed to rise out of nowhere. Her cries of glee, skipping through the rolling water went instantly mute. The quiet paralleled the eerie silence when the birds suddenly hold their breath in the forest. Something is potentially dangerous. Something is wrong. And she was gone. I had no time to prepare; the instantaneous grief snuffed out hope that she might reappear. I cried out in my sleep, loud enough that I woke to my own voice before I slipped back into REM cycle and found myself in another strange house, with strange rooms, and strange objects, trying to find a way to keep my children safe and accounted for in the two small bedrooms we occupied. I have read a dozen articles on the scientific explanation of dreams. In the end, it’s anyone’s best guess. One claimed they are the brain’s memory dump of useless waking detail. So why do dreams recur? Why do they agitate?
I’m struggling through the tangles of my attachments. It’s hard. I’m reading a book on self-compassion that reminds me I am supposed to acknowledge that this experience happens to other people too. What do I want in life? Freedom and lightness of being. Creativity and exploration. Self-love and the embrace of my children safely rooted to the ground, far from the sea. I want loyalty from friends and lovers. Enough of my needs met to feel free to flourish. Calm. Peace. Hope. I had a realization yesterday about my capacity and limitations for intimacy, and I believe this may explain my need for self-isolation. Dysregulation of the self. I need rigid boundaries. I also need love. I want to believe that if I focus on self-love and firm edges that whatever the future brings I will be emotionally prepared to continue, like a buzzing thing, to journey flower-to-flower gathering happiness—that the waves of life won't knock me down.
Loss is rough. Knocks you down like an unexpected wave. And like my dreamchild, you don’t come back from it. Loss washes you up on another shore, or may even pull you down deep into trenches you never thought to explore, the hidden body cavities of the earth. I’m waxing toward the sentimental, and I apologize. All of this reminds me of a 90s chick-flick that my step-brother gave to me on VHS for Christmas over 20 years ago. Sometimes those waves are crashing down on every side, with power that flattens you where you stand. I’ve heard this called “rock bottom.” And while I think in the past I’ve sunk to depths that felt more painful, perhaps this is deeper, and I’ve learned to live with the weight. I’ve learned to gather sleep even when storms are raging. Enough of my need for rest met that I don’t give up. This is when all I can do is muster that golden speck of light every human carries and believe the goddam cheesy adage: hope floats.